Communicative Presence: “It Will Make Us One”
Interestingly, ICTs appear to be more needed for activists as a means of communication. This may be a result of their need to maintain a group structure while living at relatively large distances from each other and meeting only occasionally. The interviewees projected high expectations from new ICTs and believe that gaining access to them will bring more cohesion to the group. This sentiment is aptly expressed by “M”:
I think the computer has software [he uses the Hebrew word], something independent that allows us to write down our thoughts and save them. I say, and not only me, everybody says, that the software can connect our thoughts. Each one based on his habits and his capabilities, and each one of the members of the group will use it based on his capabilities. I am certain that there are many educated [people] in the group who can grasp [the computer skills].
Indeed, “M” imagines software to be an independent element in the sense that it is free of any surveillance and that it will allow group members to document and preserve their conversations. The “software” serves a connectivity function for him. Yet, in addition to recognizing the role of ICTs in creating presence, he ties their utilization to the acquisition of capabilities, a notion we will return to.
“W,” who immigrated with his mother and brother in 2012 and whose father was denied immigrant status and remained in Ethiopia, studied agriculture at a college in Ethiopia and Judaism as well as Hebrew in Israel. His social awareness is high as he was a union member in Ethiopia. Regarding the communicative capabilities of ICTs, “W” had the following to say:
It is a good fit for the group so that we can be a group. If it is possible to start a group in all our names, I think it is good for all of us, so everyone can hear everything...We need the Internet. Not [just a device], if there is a computer without Internet, how will we use it? What will it do for us? I don’t know if it is possible that everyone will use it. [But] if the group will know how to use it, people can exchange ideas with each other. It will make us one, will help us be united. People can easily make their rights be honored if they use a computer.
“W”’s description of the importance of ICTs for creating group unity, and hence for communication, comes with other characteristics he associates with the device, such as transferring voice messages, information, and more.
“Z,” who previously compared the computer to an extension of his circulatory system, has a strong perception of the presence ICTs provide. He says, “Not all people have to arrive at one place, we can meet over Skype, we see each other, it’s a meeting. The same goes for Facebook.” “A” also believes that the computer and its connectivity to the Internet will contribute to strengthening connections among group members. He says that “if all members of the group have a computer, there will be a connection among us. You understand, it’s important. If there is no connection, we can’t make progress. If we are not united, if we don’t forge our togetherness.”
Indeed, beyond creating a bond, the interviewees also saw the potential of ICTs in allowing further distribution of their messages, which will both raise awareness of their struggle and help recruit partners and supporters or, as they phrased it, help the grassroots in the realization of the “holy goals” they set for themselves. According to “Z,” anyone can create information and send it to the established media or to social networking applications:
For example, we can send to CNN from anywhere anything we want. You understand? CNN and many other outlets can be accessed very easily. We can very easily speak. We can also let go of our problems on Facebook. For example, if I have a thousand friends on Facebook and they all hear of the problems I raise, that’s a lot, perhaps some of them can raise [further] questions.
“A” told of an instance in which he utilized his smartphone to help a couple being mistreated by bureaucrats at the absorption center:
In order for us to publicize what is going on down there, in the “field,” to expose to the Israeli public the things that are happening to us, to make our problems heard in the public, we can also upload pictures. [This is what] we did with the couple where the woman was sick and went back to Ethiopia to be treated, and when she came back the authorities closed her apartment and threw them out. Then the authorities called a taxi and sent them to Beer Sheva with no address. Her mother was in Beer Sheva...without a picture, what would have happened? But I took a picture of them like this [he starts the video on his phone] and sent it to all kinds of people so that they will hear and understand the type of problems we have here, so that they will see what is being done to us. We want people overseas as well to hear and to ask how could it be that you brought them and you abuse them like this.
“A” refers to an instance in which he used WhatsApp to distribute a story, and it eventually made it to the hands of the Jewish Agency, which acted upon it. He repeated this particular story a number of times during the interviews, a story in which he used modern ICTs to resolve an immediate problem by creating public pressure on the authorities. For his friends, the retelling of the story is a constitutive moment. They gain strength from the telling of the story, which ended with the Ethiopian couple getting their apartment back, even though on a day-to-day basis they mostly encounter grief and disappointment.
“T” immigrated in 2008 and has one daughter. He too sees ICTs as a means by which the public can gain knowledge regarding the difficulties facing the Ethiopian Jews. “The problems need to be distributed in the media...The computer is not enough in itself, you need to open a group on the Internet or in the computer,” he claims, continuing:
To get a computer is meaningless, if we don’t use it as a team. We need to share in the group the problems we face in the absorption center, and to make sure that they will become known outside the group. The group needs to open up to put on the computer the problems we are facing, so that other viewers can see everything. This is what I think.
Indeed, “T” sees a need for a communicative presence and its components of immediacy and intimacy. “C” expresses the same sentiment more simply: “I am certain it can also help communicating with each other, you can do interviews [he used the English word].”